Watching
Suzanne

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Critical Review

Julian Opie’s Watching Suzanne series shows a set of 20 prints featuring a dramatically cropped image of a woman’s torso and thighs, wearing only her underwear. The series is depicted exclusively in black and white and with very thick lines.

In cropping out the figure’s arms and lower half of her legs, Opie creates a highly abstracted image of the human form. Despite the flattened picture plane and use of thick, graphic lines, the image exudes a sense of realism in the way it captures the human body and thus provokes a bodily response from the viewer. Opie’s effectiveness in depicting the human form mixed with his strong sense of line, and bold use of simplified shapes is indicative of the way he strikes a balance between graphic design and high art.

Each print in Opie’s Watching Suzanne series shows the model in a dynamic pose, but when considered alongside one another the viewer can see that figure’s body in movement, turning away from the spectator. As with much of Opie’s work, each print exudes a sense of movement and motion through the static image, capturing the idea of time itself. The figure’s pose changes with each print as the series progresses and movement is conveyed through sequential images, much like movement in films. The intense cropping of each print also alludes to this notion of a snapshot in time, as opposed to providing the viewer with the entire storyline in one image.

For Opie, the depiction of movement itself becomes a tool to create a sense of realism within a highly structured, graphic visual language. Interested in movement as means to differentiate between people and form personalities, Opie uses this as a way to strike the balance between stylisation and realism in his works.

Opie has created these images through using digital photography and computer drawing programmes, a creative process he is well versed in and renowned for. Initially Opie captures the sitters through digital photographs so as to get a feel for their personality and point to any crucial details that are integral to their character. He then chooses his favourite images and draws over the individual photographs on the computer to reduce and abstract the original image.

Why is the Watching Suzanne series important?

Watching Suzanne presents the viewer with a response to iconography found in the cultural mainstream, showing an anonymous image of the stereotypically ‘sexy’ woman. Opie’s figures are therefore in line with his landscapes and still lives that form a self-conscious representation of his idea that art feeds on art. Of this, Opie has said that his picture making “is a self-conscious circular type of activity… I make art looking at other art, looking at other things in the world that look like art, making things that look like art, making things that look like things that look like art.”

As a computer-generated image, rendered in such a way that the figure appears more like a sign than an individual, Opie produces a depersonalised portrait of the stereotypical ‘ideal’ woman. Opie depicts not an identifiable woman, but the process of abstraction itself and makes a point on how we look at images. By presenting the figure as an abstracted image of the figure with her head, arms and legs cropped out, Opie forces the viewer to consider why they find this image so alluring and what constitutes attractiveness.

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